Euphemisms for Death

Cemetery

A good name is better than a good ointment, and the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth. It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:1-2).

Why would Solomon say that the day of one’s death is better than one’s birth? It was not because he was a severely depressed man who wanted to end his life. It was simply because he knew that life was vanity here, but we have something better in the hereafter (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:7-8, 13-14).

The Bible uses several expressions (euphemisms) for death. A euphemism is a milder word or phrase used in place of a stronger one. A common euphemism we use for death is to say that someone has passed away. The euphemisms of death used in the Bible teach us some lessons – both of the reality of death and the hope we have after death if we are faithful. We should take these lessons to heart (Ecclesiastes 7:2).

Going the Way of All the Earth

As David’s time to die drew near, he charged Solomon his son, saying, ‘I am going the way of all the earth. Be strong, therefore, and show yourself a man’” (1 Kings 2:1-2).

Before David died, he encouraged his son Solomon to be faithful to the Lord. To indicate that his death was imminent, he said, “I am going the way of all the earth” (1 Kings 2:2).

This phrase indicates that death is common to all people. “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). We will not live forever here on the earth. The psalmist wrote, “As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10). Of course, the seventy to eighty years is only ever true generally; it is not a guarantee. James wrote, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that’” (James 4:14-15). The reason why physical death is common to all is because access to the tree of life was lost when Adam and Eve sinned and were expelled from the Garden (Genesis 3:22-24). The consequence of their sin – mortality – spread to every generation that followed.

All of us will “go the way of all the earth.” The only exception to this rule is if we are among those who are living when the Lord returns. Of this event, Paul said, “Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, so we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). But other than that exception, we know that death is a certainty for all of us.

Breathed His Last

And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last” (Mark 15:37).

When Jesus died on the cross, Mark’s record says He “breathed His last” or “gave up the ghost” (KJV). The Greek word used is ekpneo which means breath or wind. It is related to pneuma (spirit) which is used in Matthew’s account of the event: “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit” (Matthew 27:50).

This phrase shows us that death occurs when our spirit leaves our physical body. James used this fact about death to make his point about how faith and works must accompany one another in the life of a Christian. “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). The word spirit in this verse is the Greek word pneuma. The same type of spirit that Jesus yielded up in death (Matthew 27:50) is what departs from our physical body when we die.

When God created Adam, He “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). All people have been given “life and breath” from God as descendants of Adam (Acts 17:25-26). The breath/spirit that man has is different from what animals possess. While it is true that man and animals have a similar spirit in the sense that both have life (cf. Genesis 7:21-22), the spirit of man is different. The wise man wrote, “Who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the earth?” (Ecclesiastes 3:21). At death, our “spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). Then afterward comes the judgment (Hebrews 9:27; Ecclesiastes 12:14).

Gathered to His People

Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people” (Genesis 25:8).

When Abraham died “he was gathered to his people.” However, this did not refer to his burial. “Then his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre, the field which Abraham purchased from the sons of Heth” (Genesis 25:9-10). Abraham was buried in the land of Canaan while “his people” were buried in Ur and Haran (Genesis 11:28, 32).

This phrase tells us that there is life after death. Though not explicitly stated, the Old Testament faithful understood the concept of an afterlife. After his infant son died, David said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the Lord may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:22-23). Jesus rebuked the Sadducees for “not understanding the Scriptures” because they failed to conclude that since God said, “I am the God of Abraham…Isaac, and…Jacob,” that life existed after death (Matthew 22:29-32). The fact that Abraham was “gathered to his people” (Genesis 25:8) shows that he continued to exist after he passed from this life.

After death, if we are faithful, we will be gathered together in paradise with the people of God (Luke 16:22; 23:43). After the Lord’s return, we can look forward to “our gathering together to Him” (2 Thessalonians 2:1) where we will “always be with the Lord” and with our brethren in Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

Fallen Asleep

He said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.’ The disciples then said to Him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.’ Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. So Jesus then said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead’” (John 11:11-14).

This phrase – to fall asleep – may be the most commonly recognized euphemism for death used in the Bible. Jesus used this phrase to refer to the death of Lazarus. At first His disciples did not understand Him. So He plainly told them that Lazarus was not literally sleeping, but that he had died.

This phrase reminds us that death is temporary. Many live their lives as if this is all there is. Their motto is, “You only live once,” and they do whatever feels good to them without regard to their obligation to obey the Lord. It is not wrong to enjoy life, but we must remember that we will be judged for our deeds (Hebrews 9:27). The wise man wrote, “Rejoice, young man, during your childhood, and let your heart be pleasant during the days of young manhood. And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things” (Ecclesiastes 11:9). All will be raised from the dead one day. Jesus said, “An hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment [damnation, KJV]” (John 5:28-29). Therefore, since death is temporary, we must live in such a way that we will be raised to receive a reward rather than punishment.

Those who “die in the Lord” have “rest from their labors” (Revelation 14:13). When the Lord returns, physical death will be abolished. Paul told the brethren in Corinth: “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. […] Then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’” (1 Corinthians 15:51-54). If we are faithful, though we may “fall asleep,” we can have eternal life through Christ (Romans 6:23).

Conclusion

Death is a sad reality of life, but it is good for us to consider it (Ecclesiastes 7:2). We need to live in such a way that “the day of [our] death is better than the day of [our] birth” (Ecclesiastes 7:1). How can we do this? “Fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

Paul told the brethren in Philippi, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Let us live for Christ so that we can gain eternal life after death.


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